Fire on Statfjord CSympathy strike

Sympathy strike

person Norwegian Petroleum Museum
All oil and gas production on Statfjord B and C was shut down when the Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions (OFS) took its members out on strike. This stoppage was not a response to conditions offshore, but had been called in sympathy with a strike then being pursued by the union on land.

Three weeks earlier, the OFS had instructed scaffolders, painters, sandblasters and insulators to down tools at three companies operating both on land and offshore. These were Scana, R&M Isolering and Fjeldstad. The strike spread soon afterwards a fourth firm, Norcoat. The background was that the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) had refused to establish an agreement on pay and conditions for new OFS members in the construction and maintenance sector.

Most of the workers in this area were organised by the United Federation of Trade Unions, part of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). But the relevant branches had broken with this union a year earlier and joined the OFS.
They sought their own pay deal, but the NHO wanted to negotiate with only one counterparty and accordingly refused to reach an accord with the independent OFS.

After three weeks, the OFS stepped up the pressure by taking out 888 people offshore in the sympathy strike. Both the Ekofisk Committee and the ABC union in Amoco refused to join. The first of these maintained it had been refused participation in the discussion which led to a decision that its members should strike. The central committee of the OLF responded by excluding the members of the Ekofisk Committee’s board for what it interpreted as strike-breaking. Two days later, the Ekofisk Committee withdrew collectively from the OFS and became an independent union in Phillips Petroleum.

But the largest union in the OFS, the Statfjord Workers Union (SaF) supported the strike. The SAF had previously been sceptical about the OFS policy, and threatened to pull out, but about 250 members on Gullfaks and the catering members on Statfjord B and C loyally obeyed the strike instruction.

Heavy pressure was brought to bear on the OFS, not least by its own members. It was criticised for the kind of action being taken, the way the leadership had gone about this, and the lack of information. Some critics claimed that crippling part of Norway’s oil and gas production in order to improve working conditions for members in engineering companies on land did not represent a professional union approach.

On 10 June, the central committee of the OFS resolved to call off the stoppage. This happened after the sympathy strike in the North Sea had collapsed. The branches in Statoil, Hydro and BP would no longer support it. The members of the OFS board immediately offered their resignations and called an extraordinary congress to settle accounts.

In January 1997, the membership voted by an overwhelming majority of 91.7 per cent to join the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS). This meant that the OFS was no longer a free and independent organisation, but a politically neutral union affiliated with the YS. The latter had a nationwide agreement on pay and conditions, which gave OFS members rights at land-based facilities belonging to the operators and in construction and maintenance.

Fire on Statfjord CSympathy strike
Published December 2, 2019   •   Updated December 3, 2019
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